Life Is Strange

I did something that I don't usually do last night: I cancelled my late night session at the Push Square coal face in order to finish Life Is Strange. The debut episode in DONTNOD's episodic escapade has received a mixed reception from critics, with some lauding it as a minor masterpiece, while others try not to laugh at its dislikeable dialogue. In the cool light of a new day – with kneejerk Twitter reactions purged from my system – I can see both sides of the argument, and I'm not really here to convince you to pick one. What I do know is that we need more games like it.

This industry's obsession with spectacle has always been a source of irritation for me. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy feeling like a superhero as much as the rest of you – but it's not what I want all of the time. In other entertainment mediums, for example, I'll try to mix things up; I might read a fantasy novel one week, but I'll follow it up with a Victorian romance. The same is true with television and film; Michael Bay certainly has a place, but his work is complemented by so many other options – and they don't all involve talking robots.

The Walking Dead

I like being able to relate to entertainment, but it's something that I feel rarely ever happens in games. I remember being beyond excited for the possibilities when The Order: 1886's first ever trailer appeared during Sony's E3 press conference a few years ago – but my enthusiasm for the setting was swiftly sapped when the cast of moustachioed mercenaries all pulled out their plasma rifles. In the same year, Beyond: Two Souls clumsily coveted real-world scenarios that I've never experienced before – then urged me to infiltrate the Large Hadron Collider in a conclusion that I don't really care to understand.

This all because the entire industry's still thinking like a child: bigger, better, more badass

I don't mind apocalypses and superpowers and jetpacks, but sometimes I want something that speaks to me; I want to fall in love or make friends – things that I truly understand. We're getting to a point where games can resonate on an emotional level, but there's still a fascination with the surreal. The Last of Us is a bold storytelling achievement, for sure, and I'd never take that away from it – but the touching father and daughter story that forms its centrepiece is surrounded by a world that I can imagine but don't really believe in.

I felt similarly about The Walking Dead: Season One. This was a game that was pitched to me as an emotional rollercoaster, but I struggled to really empathise with any of the characters' plights. How could I cry at the loss of a lead character when shuffling corpses comprised the very purpose of the plot? I daresay that a fair few crocodile tears were shed in relation to that release; we desperately want titles to touch us, but the reality is that they so seldom do. And it's because the entire industry's still thinking like a child: bigger, better, more badass.

Beyond Two Souls

Life Is Strange is a victim of this, by the way, with its time rewind mechanic and sci-fi mumbo-jumbo. When all of that takes a backseat, though; when you pop in your iPod earbuds and wistfully waltz down a familiar looking school corridor, judging the canoodling couples and the bullies flexing their biceps – well, that's when I'm just about able to relate. The release may be riddled with clichés and some seriously outdated dialogue, but when it strikes a chord, it rings sweet; depressed pals, forgotten friends, and a lack of self-belief – these are all things that we deal with daily, but rarely ever in games.

This is an industry obsessed with escapism, and that's alright; I don't want to have to tackle teenage pregnancy in every game. But I'm also tired of strangling dragons with my bare hands – before riding into the sunset on a skateboard with a time machine attached. This medium is capable of so darn much; it's the one form of entertainment able to truly put you inside the shoes of somebody else. Isn't it time that we stopped our obsession with superheroes, and started making real people with real problems the protagonists of some of our games?


Are you, like Sammy, tired of the industry's obsession with the spectacular, or do you play games simply to get away? Be someone else in the comments section below.

Would you like to see more grounded games? (58 votes)

  1. Yes, I think that this industry’s capable of telling real-life tales59%
  2. Hmm, I’m not really sure12%
  3. No, I play games to get away from the realities of my actual life29%

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